Romans 12:4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 12:5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
This idea of being one body in Christ has many in professing Christianity up in arms as there is a belief that one is liable to “mix up” their scriptures and not know what is “to us” vs “for us”, without understanding who this body is and when it began. After having been firmly in that line of thinking for some time, it eventually became clear to me that I was forcing myself to create a false dilemma – I was presupposing a “to us” vs “for us” construction and then allowing that to dictate how I read/understood the scriptures. Even within the “to us” and “for us” argument, I had to make further presumptions in order for it to work. As is the case with most theologies, we have to alter our thinking or even the scriptures themselves, in order to make them work.
(We’ll address the “to us” vs “for us” more fully when we get to Romans 15:4)
However, I suppose if we just keep what is written in front of us, we might be able to come closer to what the scriptures actually teach – even if it means questioning long-held positions.
God created man to live in harmony with Him. Man was the defining jewel of His creation, yet man chose to heed the advice of the serpent and determined that he was better off being a god unto himself. Man’s choice brought sin upon himself and upon the humanity that came forth from him. Humanity needed restoration to be brought back into harmony. As time marched on, God was faithful to His purpose to bring His creation into union with Himself and He therefore chose various means to move that purpose forward. These means either fell into the hands of men or into the hands of nations, but nonetheless, God would not renege on His purpose for mankind.
We see Abram called out (separated) from his people and it would be through Him that the entire WORLD would be blessed.
Genesis 22:17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; 22:18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
Galatians 3:6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 3:7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 3:8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.
Where the purpose of God is concerned, for mankind, there is no distinction or division. When the nation of Israel formed (out of the seed of Abraham), they were the chosen vessel to bring forth the blessing of Abraham. Remember from our study through Chapters 9, 10, and 11 that Israel stumbled in what they perceived their purpose to be. Israel failed to realize they were the catalyst for Christ to come to the world. I’ve mentioned it already in other posts, but Jonah is a perfect type of Israel who angrily and stubbornly refuses to take what they believe is rightfully theirs and share it with some heathen dogs. Yet, God used the stiff-necked Jonah to bring His goodness to the city of Nineveh. God demonstrated that despite Israel’s REFUSAL to bear the Faithfulness of God and the Goodness of God to the world, God would shower the world with His Goodness and would make Israel jealous.
Israel’s prophet, Isaiah, writes that Gentiles would come to Israel’s light and kings to the brightness of her rising. Israel’s light is their Messiah. Israel’s rising or exalting is the fact that they were chosen to bring forth the Messiah to the world.
John 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 3:15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Notice the Son of man must be lifted up – exalted. This is the brightness of Israel’s rising. And, John rightfully records that WHOSOEVER believes in Christ should not perish, but have eternal life. Why? Because God so loved THE WORLD, that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER believes in Him should not perish, but HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE.
John recognizes that Jesus Christ is the manifestation of the blessing of Abraham. John recognizes that Jesus is the light of Israel (and indeed the world).
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 1:2 The same was in the beginning with God. 1:3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 1:4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
When Peter was preaching to Cornelius (a Gentile), he says,
Acts 10:43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
Peter says that the very prophets of the past likewise were looking forward to this blessing of Abraham – this Messiah and that through the Messiah’s name (Jehovah Saves), whosoever believes in Him would receive the remission of sins.
John understood the singularity of Christ’s purpose in redeeming mankind. Peter (and by proxy, the prophets) likewise understood. What did Paul understand?
Romans 3:9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
Romans 3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Paul understood as well that there is no difference – all have sinned and therefore all are in need of redemption. There is no difference. If it would be argued (and by some it is), that there is no difference now but prior to Paul there was, then we must conclude that also prior to Paul, that some people sinned and some didn’t. We can’t take the righteousness of God as no difference now (as if it were at some time prior) and not likewise draw the same conclusion about sin. It doesn’t work.
John later writes that the propitiation (satisfactory payment) of Christ wasn’t just for the sins of his people but were also for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD.
1John 2:1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
This is just a sampling of verses, but we could spend hours going through the various passages that demonstrate that Jesus Christ came redeem the world and that this has been the purpose of God ever since the fall of man.
So, what does God do in the redemption of man? As we’ve learned throughout the book of Romans, God takes the believer and places the believer into the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, each believer is known of God by the name of Christ. The believer is a new creature – not identified by the flesh, but now of the Spirit. The believer is now in unending communion (fellowship) with God. In a thought, it is the gathering of chicks under the wing of the hen that shields and protects the chicks from the world around them – Jesus Christ has gathered us within Himself to likewise provide faithful protection.
So, when did this wonderful reality start? Who was the first person to enjoy this union with Christ?
It started with He that is called Wonderful. This assembly of people who have believed were brought into the Body of Christ. The body of Christ is the assembly of God. It is the collection of all believers, regardless of location, time and/or space, and the housing for these believers is the person of Christ Himself. Note Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
1Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 1:2 Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
God’s purpose for redemption included the gathering together of the redeemed in Christ. Whether Jew or Gentile, it matters not, for there is no difference. People argue over who was the first in the body of Christ, but I think the question presupposes that Christ cannot qualify as the answer – which is absurd. Christ is indeed the first, as the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. Paul reminds the Colossians of just how first Christ is,
Colossians 1:15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
We ought to stop attempting to wedge in an explanation that our paradigm requires and just allow Christ to be first. If He is to have the preeminence in all things, then certainly His body would be included, no? Christ is the first in His body and this body is described as the assembly (church) of God,
Colossians 1:24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church
This body is the collection of saints that encapsulates us together as one. As our verses in Romans tells us, we are members of one another and of His body. The first believer to be brought into the person of Christ is almost impossible to decipher (and, may not necessarily be all that important to do so). We do know that Paul speaks of a few folks who were in Christ before he was,
Romans 16:7 Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
It appears that Paul perceives the notion of being “in Christ” as something that is simply a basic reality of any believer and if believers existed prior to Paul being one, then certainly would there be folks in Christ before Paul was. In the book of Ephesians, chapter 3, Paul states that the union of saints in Christ was a mystery kept hidden in the mind of God. However, we should be careful not to conclude that what God was keeping secret (as a matter of revelation) is synonymous with God waiting to start something. That is a common mistake. The withholding of information doesn’t demand that something start once the information is revealed – it simply demands that it be understood that it is now revealed. We’ve used the example before, but the doctor’s diagnosis doesn’t begin the disease or condition – it simply sheds light on what is already true. When Paul sheds light on the eternal purpose of God (Ephesians 3:10-11), that He would bring all things together in one (Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 2:11-22, Ephesians 3:1-9), Paul is doing nothing more than demonstrating what God had already determined would be true of believers. This information wasn’t made known, openly, to those prior to Paul, yet, it was by Paul that God demonstrates what He intended all along. It isn’t about what God intended to start at a certain time – that must be read into the text. The only thing that “started” with Paul was the proclamation of the union of Jew and Gentile in Christ. Paul was called to demonstrate how the risen Christ is the catalyst to accomplish this eternal purpose.
Being that we are many members, yet one body, there are things we need to understand – especially since, at that time, there was a marked distinction between the customs and culture of the Jews versus that of the Gentiles. How should Jews and Gentiles co-exist in Christ? We’ll read more in Romans about this, but before we do, let’s take note of Paul’s words to the Corinthians. The Corinthians were an assembly of God that had a number of issues with union – that is, they weren’t living in union with each other. They were dividing the body of Christ by their often petty and infantile thinking. Through the course of Paul’s interactions with the Corinthians, he wrote to them and addressed the necessity of the body of Christ and their role in it.
1Corinthians 12:12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
This mirrors Paul’s words in Romans 12:4-5. Paul wants these Corinthians, who were in disunion that the body of Christ is a body of unity. We were all baptized (identified into) one body by one Spirit. Our earthly distinctions are completely irrelevant to this – we are one in Christ.
1Corinthians 12:14 For the body is not one member, but many. 12:15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 12:16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
Knowing that the Corinthians were making these arbitrary divisions amongst themselves, Paul makes a very basic argument that even they should understand. Can the members of a body simply deny their purpose if they do not have the purpose they believe they should have? Regardless of perceived purpose, their actual purpose is what is relevant and is what makes them relevant to the body.
1Corinthians 12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? 12:18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. 12:19 And if they were all one member, where were the body? 12:20 But now are they many members, yet but one body. 12:21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
Paul makes the argument that if all were the same part, then who would accomplish the other actions the body needs to accomplish? He wants them to be clear that even though they are one in the body, they are not one in function. The body has many members and Paul doesn’t desire the Corinthians to lose sight of God-decreed purpose, as within the confines of being one body.
1Corinthians 12:22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: 12:23 And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. 12:24 For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: 12:25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
Paul even reminds them that the function we adorn in the body of Christ may be of lesser importance, in the way we judge importance. The heart may seem more important that a toe, for example. Yet, Paul says that these more feeble parts are worth of abundant honor and indeed, the stronger parts ought to be bestowing this honor upon the weaker parts. This is God’s design and how He tempers the body together. Through this, each member, regardless of function, recognizes the importance and necessity of the other, thereby advancing that that there should be no schism in the body. Put another way, to ensure that the body of Christ isn’t divided, each member should have the same care one for another.
1Corinthians 12:26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. 12:27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
1Corinthians 12:28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. 12:29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? 12:30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? 12:31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.
Paul leaves the physical body example and turns to the spiritual reality of the body of Christ and the various spiritual functions that God has placed body members to fulfill. Paul is going to draw on these same ideas as we move into verse 6 of Romans 12.
Our story continues…